chapter < | THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON
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FRIEND IN NEED.
TEN days after the arrest of Count Alteroni, a young lady was
proceeding, at about eleven o'clock in the forenoon, down the Blackfriars Road.
She was dressed plainly, but with that exquisite taste which
denotes a polished mind, and is in itself an aristocracy of sentiment. She
looked neither to the right nor to the left: her pace was somewhat rapid, as if
she were anxious to arrive at her destination :-and though there was something
timid in her manner as she threaded her way along the crowded thoroughfare, few
who passed her could help turning round to obtain another glimpse of the
sylph-like form of that unassuming girl.
From the opposite direction advanced a young man of tall and
handsome appearance, neatly dressed, and with a shade of melancholy upon his
In a few moments he met the young lady, and was about to pass
her, when his eyes happened to catch a glimpse of her lovely features.
He started with surprise, exclaiming, " Signora! is it
possible? Do we indeed meet again? Ah! it seems to me that it is an age since I
saw you, dearest Isabella!"
"And since we last met, Richard, many unfortunate events
have happened. My poor father "
"Your father! what can have happened to him?" cried
Markham, struck by the mournful tone of the beauteous Italian.
"He is in the Queen's Bench Prison," replied Isabella, her eyes
filling with tears.
"In the Queen's Bench! And you are going to him now? Oh! Isabella, you must tell me how all this happened: I will escort you a little
way;" - and with these words, Richard offered his arm to the signora, who
accepted it with a ready confidence in him whom she loved, and whose presence
was by no means displeasing to her at that moment when she stood so much in need
"You are aware," resumed Isabella, "that my father
entrusted a considerable sum of money to Mr. Greenwood."
"The villain!" ejaculated Markham warmly.
"I cannot explain to you exactly how it was that my
father accepted the security of Mr. Tomlinson, the banker, for that amount, as I
am not acquainted with matters of business ;- but he did so, and released Mr.
"And Tomlinson failed - and your father lost all!"
"Alas! he did ;- and he is now imprisoned for a sum for
which he had become answerable to serve a friend,'' said Isabella.
long has the count been in - in "
"In prison," added the signora mournfully. "He was arrested ten days ago; and, by the
advice of a
solicitor, he removed on the following day from the bailiff's private house to
"And the countess?"
"My mother is very unwell to-day, and could not leave
her room; and I am now on my way to visit my poor father. We have left Richmond
altogether; and my mother and myself occupy lodgings in the Blackfriars Road,
near the bridge."
"Ten days ago this happened, Isabella," said Richard
reproachfully; "and you did not acquaint me with what had occurred ?"
"Ah! Richard - you know well that circumstances forbade
me;-or else "
"Or else? Speak-dearest Isabella."
"Or else I believe you would have given my father the
best advice how to proceed. He is too proud to apply to his friends; and he
cannot - he must not remain in prison. His health would sink under the idea of
degradation that has taken possession of him."
"That villain Greenwood!" said Markham, musing.
"When will the day of retribution arrive for him?"
"We must now part, Richard," observed Isabella, as they
came in view of the dingy wall of the Queen's Bench Prison, crowned by chevaux-de-frise.
"Yes - we must part again," said Markham mournfully.
"But how happy should I have been had we met this morning under other
circumstances! How I should have blessed the accident that brought me thus
early this morning on some business of my own, to this neighbourhood! Oh!
Isabella, you know not how constantly I think of you - how unceasingly I dwell
upon your dear image!"
"And can you suppose, Richard, that I never devote a
thought to you?" said Isabella, in a low and plaintive tone. "But we must
not talk upon such a subject at present. Let us hope for happier times."
With these words the young lady returned the pressure of her
lover's hand, and hurried towards the Queen's Bench.
Markham loitered about the spot for five minutes, and then
proceeded to the lobby of the prison. There he inquired into the particulars of
Count Alteroni's detention ; and ascertained that he had been arrested for
eighteen hundred pounds, with costs.
He then left the gloomy precincts of the debtors' gaol, and
retraced his steps towards the City.
"Eighteen hundred pounds would procure the count's
liberation," he said to himself: "eighteen hundred pounds, which he does not
possess, and which he is too proud to borrow, - eighteen hundred pounds, which
would restore him to his family, and make Isabella happy! My property is worth
four thousand pounds :- if I raise two thousand pound, upon it, I shall curtail
my income by exactly one half. I shall have one hundred pounds a-year remaining.
But my education was good - my acquirements are not contemptible: surely I can
turn them to some account ?"
Then it suddenly struck him that he had already raised five
hundred pounds upon his estate at the period when the Resurrection Man endeavoured to extort that sum from him; and half of this sum had already
disappeared in consequence of the amount given to Talbot (alias Pocock) in the
Dark-House - the assistance rendered to Monroe and Ellen - his journey to
Boulogne - and other claims. Then there would be the expenses of deeds to reckon.
If he raised two thousand pounds more, his property would only remain worth to
him about fifteen hundred pounds. His income would therefore be reduced to
seventy-five pounds per annum.
[-255-] But not for one moment did this noble-hearted young man hesitate relative
to the course he should pursue; and without delay he proceeded to the office of
Mr. Dyson, his solicitor, in the City.
There the business was speedily explained and put in train.
It would, however, require, said the solicitor, four days to terminate the
affair; but Markham did not leave him until he had fixed the precise moment
when the deeds were to be signed and the money paid over.
Richard returned home in a state of mind more truly happy
than he had known for some time past. He had resolved upon an immense sacrifice,
to benefit those whom he esteemed or loved; and he was prepared to meet any
consequences which it might produce. This is human nature. We may inure ourselves to the
contemplation of any idea, however appalling or alarming it may appear at first sight, without a shudder and almost without a regret. The convict, under
sentence of death in the condemned cell, and his ears ringing with the din of the
hammers erecting the scaffold, does not experience such acute mental agony as
the world are apt to suppose. We all have the certainty of death, at some date
more or lees near, before our eyes; and yet this conviction does not trouble our
mental equanimity. The convict who is doomed to die, is only worse off than
ourselves inasmuch as the precise day, hour, and moment of his fate are
revealed to him; but his death, which is to be sudden and only of a moment's
pain, must be a thousand times preferable to the long, lingering, agonising
throes of sickness which many of those who pity him are eventually doomed to
endure before their thread of existence shall be severed for ever!
Yes - we can bring our minds to meet every species of mortal
resignation, and even with cheerfulness ;- and there is no sorrow, no malady, no
pang, which issued from Pandora's box that did not bear the imprint of hope
along with it!
True to the appointed time, Richard proceeded to the office of Mr. Dyson, on
the fourth day from the commencement of the business.
He signed the papers and received two thousand pounds.
The lawyer shook his bead, implying his fears that his client was improvident
He was, however, speedily undeceived.
"Will you have the kindness to accompany me in a cab?" said Markham.
"You can render me s service in the way in which I am about to dispose of
"Certainly," returned Mr. Dyson. "Are you going far?"
"Not very," answered Richard; and when they were both seated in the
vehicle, he told the driver to proceed towards the Queen's Bench Prison, but to
stop at some distance from the gates.
These directions were obeyed.
"Now, Mr. Dyson," said Richard, "will you have the kindness to repair
to the office of the prison, and inquire the amount of debts for which a
certain Count Alteroni is detained in custody?"
Mr. Dyson obeyed the instructions
thus given to him, and in ten minutes returned from the prison with a copy of
courses in his hand.
"Count Alteroni is a prisoner for eighteen hundred and twenty-one
pounds," said the lawyer.
"Are there any fees or extra expenses beyond the sum specified in
that paper ?" asked Richard.
"Yes - merely a few shillings," replied the solicitor.
"I wish, then, that every liability of Count Alteroni be settled in such a way that he may quit
without being asked for a single shilling. Here is the necessary amount: pay all
that is due - and pay liberally."
"My dear sir," said the lawyer, hesitating, "I hope you
have well reflected upon what you are about to do."
"Yes - yes," answered Richard impatiently: " I have
well reflected, I can assure you."
"Two thousand pounds - or nearly so - is a large sum, Mr.
"I have weighed all the consequences."
"At least, then, you have received ample security "
"Not a scrap of paper."
"Had I not better call and see this nobleman, and obtain
from him a warrant of attorney or cognovit "
"So far from doing any such thing," interrupted Markham,
"you must take especial care not to mention to a soul the name of the
person who has employed you to effect the count's release - not a syllable must
escape your lips on this head; nor need you acquaint the clerks whom you may
see, with your own name. In a word, the affair must be buried in profound
Since you are determined," said Mr. Dyson, "I will obey
your instructions to the very letter. But, once again, excuse me if I request
you to reflect whether "
"My dear sir, I have nothing more to reflect upon; and
you will oblige me by terminating this business as speedily as possible."
The solicitor returned to the prison; and Markham, whom he
now considered to be foolish or mad, instead of improvident and extravagant,
threw himself back in the vehicle, and gave way to his reflections.
His eyes were, however, turned towards the road leading to the Bench; for he was
anxious to watch for the re-appearance of his agent.
Ten minutes had elapsed, when his attention was directed to
two ladies who passed by the cab, and advanced towards the prison-gate.
He leant forward - he could not be mistaken:- no - it was indeed
she - the idol of his adoration - the being whom
he loved with a species of worship! She was walking with the countess. They were
on their way to visit the count in his confinement; but Richard could not catch
a glimpse of their countenances - though he divined full well that they wore not
an expression of joy. It was not, however, necessary for him to behold
Isabella's face, in order to recognise her - he knew her by her symmetrical form,
the elegant contours of which even the ample shawl she wore could not hide: he
knew her by her step - by her graceful and dignified gesture - by her lady-like and
yet unassuming gait.
Oh! how speedily, thought he within himself, were she and her
parents to be restored to happiness again!
In about a quarter of an hour after the ladies had entered
the prison, Dyson returned to his client.
"Is it all settled?" demanded Markham.
"Every thing," answered the lawyer.
"And when can the count leave the prison?"
"Almost immediately," replied Dyson, as he entered the
vehicle once more.
Markham then ordered the driver to return to the City.
In the mean time the countess and Isabella repaired to the
room which the noble exile occupied in the prison. As they ascended the steep
stone stab- case which led to it, they wondered within them-[-256-]selves when he whom they loved so tenderly would be restored
in freedom to them.
The count was seated at a table covered with books and
papers, and was busily occupied in arranging the latter when the countess and
signora entered the room. They were instantly welcomed with the most
affectionate warmth by the noble prisoner; and he endeavoured to assume a
cheerful air in their presence.
"Any letters?" said the count, after the usual inquiries
concerning health and comfort.
"None this morning," answered the countess, "And
now, my dear husband, tell me - have you settled any plan to effect your release?"
"No," said the count. "I must trust to events. Were
Armstrong alive, I should not hesitate to accept a loan from him ;- but to none
other would I apply."
At this moment a knock at the door of the prison chamber was
heard; and the two inseperables, Captain Smilax Dapper and Sir Cherry Bounce,
made their appearance.
"My dear count, you don't mean to say that it is really true, and that you are here on your own
account - strike me!" ejaculated the gallant hussar.
"The newth wath twue - too twue, you thee, Thmilackth,"
said Sir Cherry, shuddering visibly, and without any affectation too as he
glanced around him.
"True indeed!" cried the count bitterly.
"I wonder whether they will let uth out again?" said Sir Cherry, gazing
from the window. "But, I declare, they have got wacket-gwoundth here, and
no leth than thwee pumpth. What can the pwithonerth want with tho muth
"What, indeed - confound me!" exclaimed the captain. "For my
part, I always heard that they lived upon beer. But tell me - how much is there against you?"
"Yeth - how muth"' echoed Sir Cherry Bounce.
"A mere trifle," answered the count evasively. "I
have been cruelly robbed, and my present position is this result."
"Well," continued the captain, with remarkable
embarrassment of manner, "we are all here together - and so there is no harm
in speaking openly, you know - and Cherry isn't anybody, strike him! - I was
thinking that a very satisfactory arrangement might be made. Always strike when
the iron's hot! I have long entertained a high respect for your family, count:
my late uncle the general, who introduced me and Cherry to you, always spoke
in the best possible terms of you, although he never said much about your past
life, and even hinted that there was some mystery "
"To what is all this to lead, Captain Dapper?"
exclaimed the count, somewhat impatiently.
"Simply that - why do you stand there, laughing like a
"Yes- y ou. Well, as I was saying when Cherry
interrupted me- I have always entertained the highest possible opinion of your
family, count, and especially of the signora; and if she would accept my hand
and heart - why, strike me! an arrangement could be made in four-and-twenty
"Captain Dapper," interrupted the count, "no more of
this. I believe that you would not wantonly insult either my daughter or myself;
but I cannot listen to the terms to which you allude."
"My dear count "
"Silence, sir! No more of this!" exclaimed the noble
There was a pause, which was broken by the entrance of one of
"Sir, I have the pleasure to inform you that you are
discharged," said that functionary.
"Discharged!" ejaculated the count: "impossible!
How could I be discharged?"
The countess and Isabella surveyed the turnkey with looks of
the most intense and painful anxiety.
"A stranger has sent his solicitor to pay every thing
against you at the gate; and all the fees and the little donations to us and the
criers are paid also."
"You are bantering me, sirrah!" cried the count.
"You are mistaken. The Envoy from my native land, who alone of all my
acquaintances is capable of doing an action of this generous nature, and in so
delicate a manner, has been absent from London for the last ten days, and is
even unaware of my situation. Who then could have paid my debts ?"
A name trembled upon Isabella's tongue; but the word died
upon her lips. She dared not pronounce that name - although her heart told her
that her surmise was correct, and that Richard Markham was the secret friend to
whom her father was indebted for his liberty. Richard! the reward of thy good
deed had already commenced by the feelings which now changed the love that the
beauteous girl had hitherto experienced for thee, into an adoration and a
" Well, sir,2 said the turnkey, "we don't know who
has done this, and it wasn't our business to inquire. All I can say is, that the
debt is paid, the fees settled, and you may leave the place as soon so you like."
"Dapper, this is your doing," cried the count, after a moment's
pause. "And yet "
"No - strike me! - I had nothing to do with it - I wish I
We shall not attempt to describe the delight of the Italian
family, when they found that the joyful tidings were indeed true ; but all the
count's conjectures, to fix this generous and noble deed upon any particular
member of his acquaintance, were alike unsatisfactory and unavailing :- Isabella
alone divined the truth.
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